Make #NotWasting food a personal resolution

How you can avoid food waste this holiday

This holiday, do your part to save food and create a world without hunger! ©Marie C Fields/


All over the world, holidays mean the return of certain specialties: Olivier salad for New Year’s in Russia, red bean porridge for solstice in Korea, haleem for Ramadan in India and the Middle East, mince pies for Christmas in England, pogača bread for Orthodox Easter or banana cakes for Lunar New Year in Vietnam. Whatever the holiday is and wherever in the world it is celebrated, there is usually a type of special food that goes along with it.

The holidays are a great time to celebrate and appreciate food. Yet, in some parts of the world, holidays have become synonymous with over-eating and food waste. And food isn’t the only thing that is wasted when it goes uneaten: all of the resources (like seeds, energy, land, water, feed, etc.), money and labour that go into producing, harvesting, processing, transporting and preparing it are also wasted. Not to mention the pollution and greenhouse gases that are created for nothing, throughout the entire food supply chain, when this food ends up in landfills. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that between 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that was never consumed. 

We need to stop food loss and waste at all stages of the food supply system. In 2019, FAO estimated that 14 percent of all food produced globally is lost, from post-harvest all the way up to but not including retail. UNEP additionally estimated that 17 percent of food production globally was discarded or wasted by households, retailers and the food service sector in 2019. This is the equivalent of approximately 931 million tonnes of food.

While we celebrate the people and ideas that we value, let us make saving food one of them. 

Here are nine tips on how to avoid and reduce holiday food waste:

1-     Be realistic – Plan in advance with shopping lists and don’t prepare food for 50 people if only 5 are coming to dinner. Also be aware of what guests can and cannot eat so you don’t find yourself with extras.

2-     Store food properly– When you are finished food shopping, make sure that everything is stored appropriately. For example, perishable foods such as dairy products, fruits and vegetables should be stored in the appropriate compartments of the refrigerator. Meat and fish can be stored in the freezer if you don’t intend to use them right away. Dry foods should be stored in sealed containers and, together with other canned foods, properly stored in a cupboard.

Left/Top: Haleem is a stew made of wheat, meat, lentils and species. It is generally prepared during Ramadan in India and parts of the Middle East. @vm2002/ Right/Bottom: New Year's Eve is the biggest holiday in Russia and Olivier Salad, a mix of potatoes, peas, carrots and various other ingredients, is the most traditional dish to serve. ©Yulia Furman/

3-     Understand the difference between date labels - The “best before” date refers to the quality of the food; it can still be safe to eat it after this date, whereas the “use by” date is the expiry date telling you when the food is no longer safe to eat. Use foods that are closer to their expiry dates first.

4-     Allow guests to serve themselves– As nice as it is to serve people, a host might not be able to gage how much or how little someone wants to eat and usually errs on the side of too much. Allowing guests to serve themselves means that they can choose the amount that they would like to eat. (As a food waste tip for guests: when a meal is self-serve, don’t take more than you can eat!)

5-     Freeze leftovers or give them to guests – If you do cook too much food, encourage guests to take some of it home with them. Put whatever is left promptly in the freezer to save it for another day. In general, food should not be left at room temperature for longer than two hours.

6-     Turn the leftover food into the next day’s lunch or dinner – There are many creative recipes on the internet for using leftovers. In fact, several dishes like casseroles, goulash, fattoush and panzanella were developed from the desire not to waste fruits, vegetables or bread. Make sure that you store any leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer and use them as soon as possible.

7-     Finish leftovers before preparing something new – The instinct to prepare something different for every meal is quite common, but before cooking a new dish, see if you have anything already prepared (that is still safe to eat!) to finish first.

Food isn’t the only thing that is wasted when it goes uneaten. All of the resources, money and labour that go into making it are also lost. ©Nito/

8-     Donate what you don’t use – If you buy extra cans, dried goods or other food that can be donated, there are many local charities that happily accept these foods to distribute to people in need. Check the internet for places near you that accept donations.

9-     Compost food scraps – Any leftover food scraps or food that cannot be donated or reused can be composted as an alternative to throwing it in the bin. This allows nutrients to be recycled into the soil and helps reduce the burden on landfill sites.

This holiday, remember that having food is a privilege. Enjoy it, don’t waste it!    

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 This article was updated on 28 December 2021.

2. Zero hunger, 12. Responsible consumption and production